Winner: Crater Lake
photo by Andrea Johnson
Pure silence, not a ripple on the lake, the sun rising over the crater rim. This is Crater Lake National Park (nps. gov/crla), one of the most pristine places on Earth. Stay at the rustic lodge built in 1915 and renovated in 1995, or snag a cabin or campsite in Mazama Village seven miles south of Crater Lake’s rim (open seasonally). Admire the views from one of the twenty scenic overlooks along the thirty-three-mile rim drive, some 2,000 feet above the lake—step back if you’re prone to vertigo. In winter, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski the rim. In warmer months, cycle or hike it. Want to actually dip your feet in the chilly lake? The only water access is down a mile-long trail that drops 700 feet to Cleetwood Cove. It’s worth the effort, especially if you want to take the only boat ride on the lake. A National Park Service ranger narrates the nearly two-hour excursion, which includes a close-up of Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship rock formation. Water in the crater is so pure that the boat captain stops to let guests fill their drinking bottles.
Runner-Up: Cascade Head
A UNESCO biosphere and Nature Conservancy Selected Site, Cascade Head teems with plants and animals, meadows, cliffs that fall into the Pacific and coastal views that are second to none. Bring a camera. You might glimpse the hairy checkermallow, a purple cone of flowers atop a cilia-clad stem, Cascade Head catchfly flowers or the Oregon silver spot butterfly. Just off highways 101 and 18, the lower Conservancy trail is open yearround, but the Forest Service trails are open only from July 16 through December 31 to protect wildlife.